Are you a business owner or a hero? It doesn’t have to be a choice but combining the two requires self-awareness. In our last blog we talked about the qualities of the new self in the coming Comic Age.
“The ideal human for the Renaissance humanists was a capable scientist, an athlete, a scholar, a statesman, and an artist.”
The modern statesman corresponds to a successful business owner and getting there requires thoughtful examination. Joseph Campbell‘s Hero with a Thousand Faces has been trotted out to justify all kinds of madness, but its original intent, like the study of alchemy, was the application of lessons from mythology to achieve mastery of the self.
Campbell introduced the concept of the “monomyth” – an underlying structure of hero journey tales among all cultures around the world. To be fair, the word itself is from James Joyce and owes a debt to the work of Sir James Frazer, especially in his The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion.
The monomyth for entrepreneurs looks like this:
- Call to Adventure – The hero is pulled unwilling from the boring routine. Resistance is useless but also required. For many business owners, the impetus to start the hero’s journey was a layoff, a mid-life crisis, or simply a brutally honest assessment of their own financial position.
- Sword Bridge – Some supernatural threshold must be crossed at great peril, such as a meeting with investment bankers or angel investors. Courage is not required to leave the world of the familiar as long as you have curiosity and a feel for irony.
- Temptation – Take the money and run, aka The Kickstarter Model, remains a possibility for any practical person. The hero persists in the quest to run a business in face of what people call “good advice” or “moral support” or just “common sense.”
- Death – The dark night of the soul. It begins when the business owner feels trapped by a dream that has become a nightmare. Accounting is always involved in some fashion.
- Gift of the Goddess – If this was a film, this moment would be the Deus Ex Machina (the god out of a machine) that drops down and fixes everything. In the real world, it’s called “a lucky break” or “landing a big client.” It does and, in fact, must happen for the business to be successful. Though luck is involved, luck can be finessed. Napoleon famously quipped that he was able to be so successful in battle because he knew the value of 5 minutes.
- Eternal Return – The final step is the most crucial for business owners and the one usually left out when Hollywood films use the monomyth as an outline for summer blockbusters. The hero does not use the gift of the goddess selfishly, but returns to a world left behind in order to build a new community. The motives for starting a business may be selfish but the reason to stay in business must be greater than that.
Every cell in your body knows this. Current scientific research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on the cellular health benefits of happiness has found that.
“The sense of well-being derived from ‘a noble purpose’ may provide cellular health benefits, whereas ‘simple self-gratification’ may have negative effects, despite an overall perceived sense of happiness.”
“Hero” does not mean “self-sacrifice.” It means improving the world through improving ourselves and helping others through what we have learned in the process. This is serious business but we can’t afford to take ourselves seriously throughout it all. That is the first step to self-pity. As Napoleon was unquestionably someone who was extremely effective at his chosen profession, perhaps it is best to conclude with one more of his thoughts that alludes to the correct perspective on self-awareness in the coming Comic Age. In discussing his own devastating failure in attacking Russia, he sighed:
“From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a single step.”